THE COLLECTION OF TERRACOTTA SCULPTURES IN THE MUSEO NAZIONALE DEL PALAZZO DI VENEZIA IN ROME
Palazzo Venezia's collection of terracotta sculptures began to be assembled immediately after the birth of the museum in 1916 when, under the curatorship of Federico Hermanin (1868-1953), several important works were given to the new institution by the museum of Castel Sant'Angelo, including the fine Corbel-Bearing Angel by Paolo Naldini and the maquettes for the figures of Ocean and Abundance that were executed for the model of the Trevi Fountain, by Nicola Salvi. At the end of the Second World War, the new director, Antonino Santangelo (1904-1965) managed to acquire a prestigious and rich collection of terracotta sculptures that had been assembled in the early 20th century by an intriguing collector, the tenor Evangelista Gorga (1865-1957). Gorga retired from the stage in 1899, after a brief but brilliant career, to concentrate his efforts on collecting. Aside from musical instruments, which constituted his main interest, the tenor acquired a whole array of cultural and historical artefacts: from fossils to classical weapons, from toys to medical instruments, together with bronzes and terracottas, a total of around 150,000 pieces that were held in ten connecting apartments, which Gorga rented in a building in via Cola di Rienzo. Towards the end of the 1920s, the Education Ministry placed a lien on all collections of historical and artistic interest, collections that, on 29 July 1929, were seized. After a series of transfers, which saw Gorga's works pass from the vaults of the Vittoriano to the storerooms of the Galleria Nazionale di Arte Moderna in Rome, an agreement between the Ministry and the singer was drawn up on 27 November 1949 for the works to come to Palazzo Venezia. Part of the collection was catalogued and published by Santangelo in the Catalogo delle sculture (1954). In the years that followed the collection grew thanks to important acquisitions and bequests. In 1947 the museum was given 10 terracotta maquettes that had belonged to the renowned scholar Ludwig Pollak, which included St. John the Baptist by Melchiorre Cafà, and the model of the Monument to Cardinal Agostino Favoriti by Filippo Carcani. In recent years, the Italian state has acquired several important pieces by Alessandro Algardi, including the Bust of Pope Innocent X and the Baptism of Christ, which have boosted the museum's already notable selection of small-scale works by the Bolognese master.
Terracotta sculptures serve a practical purpose, used as preparatory studies for a definitive work, and they are, consequently, fundamental in helping to reconstruct the creative process of those artists represented in the collection, who all worked between the 16th and 19th centuries. There are more than 120 maquettes and models in the Gorga collection that were later made into full-scale marble sculptures and reliefs. It includes original works by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, the Angel with the Superscription, for the Ponte Sant'Angelo, by Alessandro Algardi, the author of the Jesuit Saints and Blesseds, a model for the bronze relief on the urn of St. Ignatius of Loyola in the church of Gesù in Rome, and the figure of St. Nicholas, a preparatory work for the main altar in the church of San Nicola da Tolentino. Also noteworthy is the bass-relief model for the figure of St. Eustace in Sant'Agnese in Agone by the Maltese artist Melchiorre Cafà, the most interesting artistic personality in Rome from the generation of sculptors active in the second half of the 17th century, and the final work for the marble relief realized by Jean Baptiste Théodon for the chapel of Monte di Pietà, depicting Joseph Giving Grain to the Egyptians. There are also works by Domenico Guidi, Pierre Le Gros, Giuseppe Sanmartino, Giuseppe Mazzuoli, Pietro Bracci, Filippo Della Valle, Bartolomeo Cavaceppi, Vincenzo Pacetti and Joseph Nollekens.
The art historical research conducted under the auspices of the Getty Foundation project provided the opportunity for new attributions to be proposed, for the geographical origins of some pieces to be more accurately determined and for the chronology of their production to be more precisely mapped out. Moreover, thanks to the detailed analysis and restoration of some selected works, a better understanding has been gleaned of the techniques used by the most important artists represented by the collection, notably Bernini and Algardi, and in some cases the polychromy was revealed to date from a significantly later period than the terracotta itself.
Maria Giulia Barberini